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Diagnosing the completion of a sound change: Phonetic and phonological evidence for /ʃ/ in Buenos Aires Spanish

  • Marcos Rohena-Madrazo (a1)

This paper presents a sociolinguistic analysis of the variable devoicing of /ʒ/ in Buenos Aires Spanish, a phenomenon previously characterized as a change in progress. A novel method is implemented to determine the completion of the devoicing change by comparing the voicing levels of /ʒ/ to the inherent voicing variability of /s/, as well as by comparing the allophonic patterns of /ʒ/ to those of /s/. If the voicing levels of /ʒ/ are not significantly different from those of /s/ and the /ʒ/ no longer exhibits positional affrication, then the speaker's underlying postalveolar fricative is /ʃ/: they are a “devoicer.” The results suggest that, although older speakers, of both middle and upper classes, exhibit variation in the distribution of “voicers,” most younger speakers are devoicers, indicating that the /ʒ/ devoicing change is nearing conclusion. As a result, the underlying fricative for the majority of Buenos Aires Spanish speakers may very well be /ʃ/.

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Language Variation and Change
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